It's 30 miles long, will cost Pounds 6.6bn to build, can handle earthquakes of magnitude 8.0, and withstand the impact of a 300,000- tonne vessel. Clifford Coonan reports on ...
Couples wander along Lovers' Promenade in Zhuhai, taking photographs against the backdrop of the gambling enclave of Macau, enjoying the view of the South China Sea. But within sight of the skyscrapers and casinos of Macau, a major transformation is taking place, and in six years' time when the couples look out, their holiday snaps will have a backdrop of the longest sea bridge in the world.
Building work has just started on the 30-mile Hong Kong-Zhuhai- Macau Bridge, which will link China's southern economic hub of Guangdong province to Hong Kong and Macau.
The scale is breathtaking. The bridge is one of the most technically complicated landmark projects in China's, and the world's, transport history. Not many bridges, for example, include a tunnel section that travels underwater. And it will bring economic ties closer in the region, underlining the Pearl River Delta's status as one of the world's great economic powerhouses.
Everyone is talking about it, from chief executives happy that it will boost the area around Zhuhai, which has been slightly neglected in favour of manufacturing zones like Shenzhen or Dongguan, to those living in the region who are keen to be able to see what is going on in the economic hotspots of Macau and Hong Kong.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic. Environmentalists are worried about the local dolphin population, while some Hong Kong residents fear that the bridge could mean travellers head straight past the former Crown colony without stopping.
Whatever the doubts, the size of the undertaking has given the bridge an unstoppable momentum of its own. When it is finished in 2016, the 73 billion yuan (6.6bn) bridge will be a six-lane expressway that can handle earthquakes up to magnitude 8.0, strong typhoons and the impact of a 300,000-tonne vessel.
Traffic will travel at around 60mph, and it means that travelling between these economic powerhouses will only take half an hour, compared to three or four hours now. The vast manufacturing towns of the Pearl River Delta have been the engine of China's remarkable economic growth in the past three decades, and the whole region accounts for around 40 per cent of China's gross domestic product (GDP), so effective transport links are crucial.
The British-based engineering group Arup is doing design work for the project, and according to Naeem Hussain, Arup's global bridge leader, the difficulties are considerable. "The challenging part in terms of design was to trying to have the minimal environmental impact," said Mr Hussain, who is based in Hong Kong. "We have the white dolphin here and we wanted to make sure we don't impact the water flow. And also we wanted to ensure that the form of the construction doesn't pollute the water."
Environmentalists were angered when they heard of the decision to build a bridge across the natural habitat of the endangered white dolphin, known as "the panda of the ocean" because of its slim survival chances. …